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Beccon '87 Ghost Of Honour Speech
Patrick Parrinder

Ladies and gentlemen....

I want to make it quite plain that I am here under false pretences, and against my will. I have been given a few minutes to explain my presence here this morning, though I must tell you that it is as much of a surprise to me as it undoubtedly is to you. First of all, I am not the person that you may mistakenly think I am. I am not Mr Ian Watson, even though just at present I seem to be the inhabitant of his body. Mr Ian Watson is, I am told, a science-fiction writer, with a certain admiration for some rather trifling books I once wrote. Whether his admiration will survive this experiment in which he and I have become so curiously entangled, I cannot say. As I am the present inhabitant of Mr Watson's body, he, I can only suppose, is currently making free with mine. Mr Watson, I am told, bears a certain physical resemblance to me in my sprightlier and younger days. But I must assure you that the brain that is speaking to you from inside his body is not his. It is mine.

I am trying to outline these confusing matters to you as clearly as possible. When I left home this morning, I distinctly remember the date. It was April 19th, 1932. I was being driven in a hired limousine, and with me in my briefcase was the speech I intended to give at a weekend conference run by the younger members of the Fabian Society. These conferences are rather jolly affairs, as they tend to attract a number of intelligent young men and pretty and intelligent young women. On the whole I find that the young women make more attentive listeners than the young men. The subject of my paper was to be 'The World of our Grandchildren' – though from my point of view, as I am 65, it would have been 'The World of our Great-Grandchildren'. I wonder what has happened to that paper. Perhaps at this very moment Mr Ian Watson is reading it to an audience somewhere – though if he should find himself at that Fabian conference, he would do better to tear it up and speak from his own experience. Mr Watson, I understand, is almost young enough to be one of my great-grand-children.

Now when I am in my own body I am a notoriously incompetent speaker. I fiddle with my tie, lose my place, drop my notes, and my voice either dwindles into inaudibility or is mercilessly distorted by the public-address system. If I do not have a speech all written down beforehand I am left wordless, tongue-tied, squeaking and gibbering. Happily on this occasion I do not seem to be in so much of a funk as usual. Perhaps Mr Watson, like my friend Bernard Shaw, is a more gifted mountebank than I am. Certainly his body, unlike mine, feels relatively calm and collected on a public platform.

The fact is that I am a little nervous, but for a rather different reason. I understand that not only are you an audience of my great-grandchildren, so to speak, but you are an audience of 'science-fiction fans'. 'Science fiction' did not exist in my day unless you count some horribly cheap magazines published by a swindling American called Hugo Gernsback. I know about Mr Gernsback and his little ways, since he is in the habit of reprinting my stories without my permission and without paying any fees. But even Mr Gernsback in his wildest dreams could not have imagined this extraordinary Convention in which I find myself. I have learned to my horror that this gathering includes people who count themselves, in this year of 1987, among my most loyal and enthusiastic readers. I can only hope that what I have to say will bring them to their senses. I have to tell you that the fantastic tales of scientific inventions which I wrote in my youth were the merest apprentice-work, on which I cut my teeth as a writer before turning to more serious tasks. I have asked to be allowed to speak to you so that I can urge you to give up reading scientific romance and turn to the serious business facing the world. I want to ask you to turn from reading Science Fiction to building an Utopian World State.

Before I explain my ideas about the World State and the Open Conspiracy, let me try to say in a little more detail how I came to be here. I think I heard the person who introduced me suggesting that I might have travelled to this Convention in a time machine. I am afraid that he was guilty of a ridiculous error. The time machine of which I wrote in my youth was only a speculative device. Incidentally, I am told that Mr Ian Watson once published a story called 'The Very Slow Time Machine'. If this was meant as a flattering allusion to my work it has sadly misfired. The whole point about time machines is that, if they existed, they would move very fast. In any case, I did not travel here on a time machine. I came here by car.

When I arrived, another member of your Committee suggested that I might have come by the method described in a little story I once wrote, 'The Stolen Body'. It is true that I seem to have stolen Mr Watson's body. However, my story was written so long ago that I have not the slightest idea whether it is relevant or not. As I have said, I came here by limousine. I used to enjoy driving myself, in a jerky and approximate fashion, but nowadays when I have somewhere to get to I employ a chauffeur. The young man who turned up to drive me this morning seemed perfectly normal. As we drove along I was too busy making some last-minute amendments to my speech to notice the landscape. I may have nodded off for a minute or two. When I woke up I was puzzled to find that the chauffeur addressed me as 'Mr Watson'.

Whether I have stolen Mr Watson's body, or whether he has stolen mine, is I confess something of a mystery to me. His is a fairly agreeable sort of body, though when I caught sight of it in the driving mirror I did suffer a most unpleasant shock. Also, I begin to feel some anxiety as to what Mr Watson is up to in my body – assuming that is where he is, and that we are not caught up in some intricate game of physical musical chairs. I hope he takes good care of my body, while he is inside it. He will need to give it regular exercise, fresh air, and a carefully controlled diet – since I am, or was, a diabetic. He will find my body's sexual urges a little troublesome, I dare say. He will need to seek out attractive and intelligent members of the opposite sex in order to give these urges some relief. I hope this necessity does not put Mr Watson under too much strain. He is probably accustomed to a very different and much duller sort of life.

Now let me come to the real reasons why I wanted to be allowed to speak to you. When my chauffeur addressed me as 'Mr Watson', I asked him what the date was and where we were. He said it was 1987 and that we were driving through the outskirts of Birmingham. I confess that I was not as elated by this as I might have hoped. In fact I was conscious of considerable dismay. Looking around me, I soon realized that the world of my grandchildren was a world in which people could not possibly have read any of my serious books. If they had read my serious books they would have planned and organized and cleared away the dirt and ugliness I glimpsed around me. You see, to me your world of 1987 is rather like my world of 1932. All my life I have dreamed of an ordered and spacious society, an educated and disciplined world of the future. The alternative, I believed, was stark catastrophe. But I arrive in 1987 and I find that you are content to muddle along in the same wasteful and outdated fashion as my contemporaries did.

It is true that before I came on this platform I asked your Committee what mankind had achieved in the past 55 years. Their answers at first were difficult to understand, but finally I made out that they were speaking of space-rockets, atom bombs, and electronic brains. Perhaps they were disappointed by my response. I had expected that you would have built the new world order, and brought about world peace. All you have done is to develop various inventions which are anticipated either in my books, or in those of one or two of my forward-looking contemporaries. Moreover, your scientists have been content to leave control of the world in the hands of the politicians and military men. Scientific research as a result is largely misdirected. It is plain to me that your age is in as much need of my ideas of the World State and the Open Conspiracy as were my contemporaries.

I feel that I am coming to the end of my allotted time on this platform, but I have not even begun to address you on these urgent matters. I would like to speak of the World State, of World education, World history, the World encyclopaedia and the Open Conspiracy. I would like to discuss how we are to stop homo sapiens from pursuing his present blind and suicidal path. I will not develop these matters further this morning. But this afternoon I intend to ask your chairman to suspend your regular proceedings so that we can debate them fully. If I am not here to do so, you will know that I have got my own body back and that I am busy expounding the same themes to the 1932 conference of the Young Fabians. You will, no doubt, wish to carry on this crucial debate in my absence.

Let me end, however, on a more personal note. Of all the many science-fiction writers who have claimed to be prophets, I am the first one to have actually visited the future. It is, I admit, a rather unnerving experience. But once I have got my own body back from Mr Watson it is plain what I shall do. I shall set to work on a novel describing this queer world of 1987, how it came into existence and where it is leading. Then I will travel round the world and unfold the results of my researches to Mr Roosevelt and Mr Stalin. No doubt they will see the necessity of amending their policies instantly. Now I realize that if I tell my readers exactly what I have seen in the year 1987 they will not believe me. I shall have to make some of it up. I shall certainly not mention anything so undignified as my appearance at this Convention.

I think I shall call this new novel of mine The Shape Of Things To Come. Rather a good title, don't you think? I expect it to be published in 1933, and I shall then talk to Mr Alexander Korda about the film rights. Before I go I must confess that, after all, I am beginning to enjoy this world of 1987. There is something pleasantly informal about it. Some of your young ladies would, I suspect, make extremely congenial company. But I think I had better go back and write The Shape Of Things To Come before Mr Ian Watson steals my idea. I am sure he is an expert on 1987 but he would be bound to make a frightful mess of writing about it. Besides, I am beginning to find his body rather a tight and uncomfortable fit. In my mature years I have needed a good deal more room to bulge and sag and flop about in than Mr Watson's body seems to provide.

By the way, I see that I must be a little more modest than you may have thought, since I have still to tell you who I am. My name probably means as little to most of you as does Mr Watson's to whatever audience he is currently addressing himself. But, ladies and gentlemen, my name is – or was – H.G. Wells.

[Patrick Parrinder scripted the above speech for Beccon Ghost of Honour H.G. Wells, who as indicated in the text was indeed played by Ian Watson.... Dave Langford]